October 21st, 2016


Founder, 350.org

CEO, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation


Environmental activist Bill McKibben, who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, recalls a moment in an early debate when the candidates were asked what the most important issue in the world was. Bernie’s answer? “Climate change – as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which it is,” McKibben remembers. “And in this general election, truthfully, all issues of substance have disappeared.”  

With all of the issues swirling around this year’s presidential race, climate change seems to have taken a back seat in the general election.  The New York Times recently pointed out that the lack of even a single question about the issue during the presidential debates was “a failure of journalism.”  And while much has been made of the state of the nation’s economy, the link between our environment and our economy has been downplayed.  McKibben, founder of 350.org, and Terry Tamminen, CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, are two leaders of the nation’s most influential climate organizations.  They came to Climate One to share their perspectives on what’s really at stake this election cycle.

Terry Tamminen, a Democrat who served in Republican Governor Schwarzenegger’s cabinet, remembers working across the aisle on a climate change bill back in 2004. At that time, he says, there was a willingness to act, even among staunch Republicans like Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Senator Mark Rubio – albeit perhaps for different reasons.

“In Florida they found the same thing that we found in California – that what was going to be good for the environment was good for the economy.”

Tamminen says that while there was some consensus among the major candidates during the 2008 election cycle, unfortunately, even moderate Republicans are now standing with the climate denial faction.  The rise of the tea party and the Koch Brothers’ grip on congress are among the reasons he cites. “There’s just a whole host of unfortunate circumstances that I think have shifted even moderate Republicans, not just to the right, but into being climate deniers,” he laments.

Still, come November 8th, McKibben has confidence in both a Democratic victory and a renewed commitment to the climate issue. “I have not the slightest doubt that the minute that the election is over, that the climate movement is going to be pushing, and pushing hard, for real action,” he affirms. “Because we can't, we have no more four years to waste.”

McKibben says it was Sanders’ perseverance that helped to keep climate change at the top of the Democratic platform.

“There is a promise that there will be an emergency climate summit within the first hundred days of the new administration,” McKibben says.  If that happens, he urges the Climate One audience to make their voices heard. “We need an emergency climate mobilization in the streets, in Washington.  We’ll need hundreds of thousands of people here, so save up what of your carbon footprint you can for the trip across the country come next spring!”

Tamminen found it heartening that the sold-out audience for this event at the Commonwealth Club included a large contingent of young people from the home schooling community.  Noting that many of them would be voters in the next ten years, Tamminen applauded their engagement in the climate fight.

“Because no matter where you come out on these issues later on in life, it's important to haveeco-literacyy, environmental literacy, so you can understand these issues and then vote,” he told them.

When the time came for questions, many of the younger audience members lined up to ask how they could participate in the climate movement.  Both speakers had suggestions -- including learning to kayak. McKibben credits “kayaktivists” with foiling Exxon’s plans to drill in the Arctic. “These great activists by the thousands in small watercraft…appeared to block the way.  And it was some of the most amazing images you've ever seen…so if we can keep these movements strong we can I think continue to protect the Arctic.”

McKibben added that the movements built by his organization, 350.org, are being helmed by young people across the globe.

“People your age and just a little bit older who are organizing entire countries and, you know, cities and towns to get things done. So my advice is look for other people, band together and make change on that scale.  

“And if you’ve got some time left over, then make sure you're pestering your parents to get all the right light bulbs in place!”

Related Links:


The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

NY Times: The debates were a failure of journalism

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Climate Change (Business Insider)

“Before the Flood” - Documentary